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Making sense of the CPD maze

2014. By now most translators and interpreters have attended at least one online continuing professional development (CPD) event by webinar. We have become used to the medium and the range of courses and topics now available is huge. One could be forgiven for thinking that there is almost too much on offer – almost every professional institute in the world now has its own programme of online CPD. So how can you select the training that’s right for you?

Successful CPD is a four-step process:

1. Set goals

The first thing to do is to think about where you want to be in one year’s time, five years’ time, or in 10-20 years’ time and work out how to get there by setting a number of goals. These could include learning new skills, learning how to run your business better, developing expertise in a specialist subject, or keeping up with legislation – every language professional will have different goals and different ways of achieving them.

2. Identify and plan

The next step is to identify some activities to achieve these goals. So much is now available online, either for free or at low cost, that the resources available have increased exponentially in recent years.

There are several categories of CPD – formal, semi-formal and informal – and your programme should include a mix of them all. Here are some ideas:

Formal: Attend conferences, lectures, seminars and language workshops. Many professional associations, including ITI, organise such events. Online training is also available at a reasonable cost from professional organisations and commercial companies such as eCPD Webinars and The Alexandria Project. Furthermore, you can often find training in your specialist areas by approaching the professional body for your field and checking out what is offered or recommended in the way of seminars.

iTunes U is a good source for finding free university lectures on various topics. If you want a full university course for free, and have the time to devote to it, you can investigate Coursera and MOOCs.

Semi-formal: attend trade fairs or exhibitions, familiarise yourself with a new software tool, build a glossary, read and learn from publications and websites related to your subject specialism or visit your local county court to watch law in action.

Informal: read a novel, subscribe to newspapers and magazines, watch TV or films – all in your source language – or join and contribute to professional forums such as LinkedIn groups. And don’t forget to keep your target language writing skills honed too.

3. Carry out your training

Regardless of whether you have chosen a formal or informal method of CPD, you will need to put effort into your choice. Pay attention during your training session, make notes, review what you have learned and put it into practice.

4. Keep records, review and reflect

Once you have undergone your chosen training, the final stage is to maintain good records, and, importantly, to review what you have learned, jotting it down along with your thoughts on what you have achieved since the event, and how you can build on it for next year. Then reflect on whether it has made you a better or more successful practitioner.

Before finalising your records, start planning ahead for the next year, or even the next five years. Use the reflections on your activities over the year to decide where you plan to go next.


Freelancers have to take responsibility for their own development and career direction. Everything around us is in a state of flux. Technology never ceases to develop, new tools come on the market, documents take on ever more complex formats, legislation changes, languages evolve, new markets emerge and old ones die away. CPD is how we keep up with all that in a deliberate way, in a work context, and avoid burning out or becoming a victim to these changes. Perhaps more importantly though, at a very minimum it's how we become and remain competent to the levels to which we aspire, which of course helps us feel satisfied in our work and helps us progress our careers throughout our working lives.

By undergoing a structured programme of CPD, language professionals make a contribution to maintaining high standards in our profession, and help to counter the growing global trend by work providers to push rates (and therefore standards) down to the point that professionals can no longer afford to work.

About the author

Lucy Brooks is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (London) and a qualified member of ITI. Following careers in travel and tourism, IT and local government, she became a professional translator in 1990, translating technical documents from German, French and Spanish into British English. She is also the founder and managing director of eCPD Webinars in the UK, an organisation offering training to translators and interpreters.


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